Benjamin Lim – barking up the wrong tree?

By: Chua Chin Leng

Below is an extract from a CNA report on 7 Jan 17.

SINGAPORE: From April 2017, young suspects below the age of 16 under criminal investigation will be accompanied by a grown-up during interviews under a new Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS) announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday (Jan 6).

The Appropriate Adults (AAs) will be independent, trained volunteers whose job at police interviews will be to look out for signs of distress as well as aiding communication and providing emotional support. They must remain neutral and not advocate for the young suspect, nor provide legal advice or disrupt the course of justice in any way….

On whether young people would benefit from having a neutral adult present at interviews, he said: “You have to balance between having to interview quickly in order to make sure there’s no information leakage, and the need to consider whether it’s helpful for a 12- or 13-year-old to have someone else present at a police station … Regardless of how the police treats him, he’s still in uniform.”

The initiative comes in the wake of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim’s suicide in January 2016, after he underwent a police investigation over alleged molestation.

The impression I have after reading all the reports in the media about how the school officials and police officers handled Benjamin Lim’s case, is that there was absolutely no issue at all. There were a lot of tender loving care shown to Benjamin, everyone was so kind and caring, so sensitive, and there was no undue pressure on Benjamin.

My conclusion is that this amendment may be superfluous and an over reaction. When Benjamin was handled professionally by all the trained professionals, following proper procedures and protocols, and with kindness, consideration, and above all, sensitivity, anything that was wrong should not be on the part of the police protocol.

The amendment is kind of an over reaction, an after thought that may not be really necessary. Some may label it populist. Or they have they found some reasons to do?

There is a saying that is things are not wrong, don’t try to fix it. Fix it only when it is wrong.

And the police were not in uniform in the school, that helped except that maybe one or two police officers would be less intimidating on a child. It is good that Shanmugam acknowledged the point that police in uniform is intimidating to a child, but not in Benjamin’s case. Only in the police station that the police were in uniform. Maybe the amendment could include police not to be in uniform when handling cases involving children.

The appointment of a trained volunteer to look for signs of stress sounds proper and would be right if the police protocol and procedure are intimidating to young people. But were these present in Benjamin’s case that led to his stress level and eventual suicide? Any meaningful linkage?

If I remember it was reported that Benjamin did not show any sign of stress at all. What I thought would be more appropriate in the case of children is to have someone close to him, like parents whom he is comfortable with, to provide the emotional and psychological support needed in such situation. Another stranger that the child does not know could hardly be reassuring to the child, and could add more pressure instead.

Which is more important, to look out for signs of stress or to provide the child with some sense of security, that he is not alone, and the parents are there with him? In the latter case, there will definitely be lesser stress than in the former case that could add to the stress level.

Shanmugam also pointed out that the police were very sensitive in Benjamin’s case and suicide is more a case of the individual.

Oh, the MOE also introduced new measures to protect school children when investigated by the police, like being accompanied by teacher, counsellor or someone from the school.

No one deem it right, necessary and important for the parents of a child to be present. Why? Can a stranger in whatever profession be good enough in such cases? Touch your heart.

I hope Benjamin and his family could be comforted that his death is not in vain and the new measures would prevent other children from going through the same ordeal as Benjamin and no more Benjamin will fall in the future.

What do you think?

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